MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s the only disease among the leading causes of death that can’t be cured, prevented or slowed. For nearly two years, WCCO has been documenting a retired Stillwater doctor’s diagnosis of the earliest detectable stages of Alzheimer’s.
It’s been six months since we last visited with Dr. Paul Quinn and his family. The now 78-year-old still lives at home, drives, and for the most part gets through his daily routine.
But, there are memory changes that have startled his family and made them plan more seriously for the future.
It doesn’t get much better than spending a Friday night in the fall, here, the bleachers with your family and a grandson on a St. Paul soccer field. But, looking around at the crowd, you’d never know Paul Quinn’s battle to remember any of it.
“I have a lot better recollection of the past than I do current time,” Paul Quinn said.
The pace of the game is hard for him to keep up with and when we sit-down with Paul a week later and ask about the match, we see for ourselves his frustration with forgetting. We ask which grandchild was playing last week.
“Um, it was Katie’s youngest whose name I can’t come up with at the moment,” Paul replies.
But it was his daughter Katie’s oldest on the field that night.
“I think there’s been a fairly significant change since you last saw him,” Peg Quinn, Paul’s wife said.
In the past few months, Peg has watched her husband’s inability to hold on to much beyond what’s happening right now. Like the cruise they took this summer — Paul knows he had a good time.
“It was a beautiful trip we had beautiful weather,” Paul Quinn said.
But he can’t seem to recall where they went.
“No we didn’t go to Turkey,” Peg corrects him. “He likes seeing everything new we were seeing, he just doesn’t have a memory of it.”
Living in the moment has become the only thing the Quinn’s are able to do. It’s partly why Peg has decided to stop researching the disease. She knows by now how Alzheimer’s usually ends.
“It’s a very sad road and a hard road, and I don’t want to dwell on that,” she said.
She says she’s convinced there’s no point to worrying about what they can’t control and what hasn’t happened yet.
“I’d rather just take it as it comes,” Peg said.
Just as it did weeks ago, when, after returning home from that trip, Paul didn’t recognize the Jeep he’s had for 15 years.
“Then he sat down and said ‘This is not my car,'” Peg recalled. “It was very scary for us because he stuck with it and said, ‘I don’t know how anything works in here,'” Peg recalled.
Eventually he decided to get in and drive home.
“Those kind of things happen every once in a while,” Peg said. “They’re very startling and unsettling and I think we’ll be seeing more of them.”
The Quinns said they still feel comfortable with Paul behind the wheel. They installed a GPS tracking device on his car. He drives close to home and hasn’t gotten lost.
Experts say the driving decision is often the most difficult to make, but they believe caregivers shouldn’t take away a patient’s independence too soon.
The Alzheimer’s Association can connect families with driver assessments — call 1-800-272-3900.
See some of our previous coverage of Dr. Paul Quinn and his family.